Farm ministers want more sheep cash

24 July 2001

Farm ministers want more sheep cash

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

EUROPEAN agriculture ministers are demanding extra money for sheep producers as part of a deal to reform the existing support regime.

And despite reluctance from the European Commission to increase rates, sources believe weight of opinion could eventually force through the changes.

During an initial debate on the commissions proposals on Monday (23 July), ministers from France, Ireland, Spain and Austria demanded increases.

The Euro21 (12.90) per head flat rate payment and Euro7 (4.30) per head Less Favoured Area supplement due to take effect next year should be raised, they said.

Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy and Portugal also want more than the Euro16.8 (10.30) a head on offer for milk sheep and goats.

The UK is opposing a higher payment, instead proposing that the sheep regime is rolled into the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy.

This brought criticism from the Ulster Farmers Union which accused UK ministers of missing a golden opportunity.

UFU president Douglas Rowe said: A window of opportunity now exists but the government negotiating team arent pressing for a better deal for the sheep sector.

Despite the large consensus in favour of upping the budget, the commission is reluctant to do so.

One of our major concerns is to respect budget neutrality, said agriculture commissioner, Franz Fischler.

He saw no reason to increase the milk sheep payment, either, since studies showed these producers were better off than meat only producing counterparts.

Italian minister Gianni Alemanno has suggested raising the basic premium to Euro24 (14.70) a head.

But commission sources said this would take the sheep budget to over Euro2bn (1.25bn) from its current rate of Euro1.82bn (1.1bn).

That would bust the Berlin financial ceiling for sheep and would mean we would have to look for money in other areas of the CAP, said the source.

But, given the weight of opinion in favour of raising the sheep spend, he would not be surprised if that was the final outcome.

The main sticking point, he suggested, was how to deal with the LFA supplement.

The commission is concerned that currently all LFA sheep producers are entitled to it, yet member states can increase the size of their LFAs almost at will.

That has serious cost implications, and the commission wants to limit the top-up to areas where there are no alternatives to sheep production.

Final decisions are expected in November, after the European parliament has given its non-binding opinion on the reforms in October.


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